Role of Women in Pakistani Media

Media is a platform which provides us with all sorts of information. It also serves as a means of communication that allows ideas to exchange, attitudes to form, and a new society to shape. Modern history bears witness to the fact that media has grown its influence exponentially through the modern technology. It is also a cultural force which not only reflects the social reality but also modifies it according to the demands of the age. The content broadcast on media is reflective of the values of a society. During the last decade, media has become stronger and more influential in Pakistan due to the rapid development of communication technologies and infrastructure development.

Media in Pakistan, like other professions, continues to be overwhelmingly male-dominated. Though it is quite encouraging that the number of females working in the Pakistani media is fairly large now as compared to the past, yet a female-oriented story is hardly given any priority by the media outlets unless it’s glamorous or related to crime or some sort of abuse.

It is an irrefutable fact that for a number of reasons — mostly cultural — educated girls are not allowed to work alongside men. In fact, cultural taboos discourage middle and lower middle class families from sending their girls to coeducation institutions. Women’s presence in workplaces has continued to remain almost negligible, mostly because of a culturally-induced, self-imposed prohibition by their families.

Unfortunately, women’s access to and growth in media organizations has not been supported in Pakistan. The openings for women within the media industry, especially in decision-making positions are limited. In fact, women are missing from top management positions in media houses. Due to the environment of media houses in Pakistan, a lot of times women tend to feel frustrated and move away from the media industry to find other jobs.

Despite the fact that it is difficult to find adequate data on male and female ratios working in media in Pakistan, it can be safely said that there are fewer women working in this field as compared to men. A lot of girls in Pakistan are students of journalism and mass communication, but they hesitate to join the field of media. The fact that women are missing from top positions in Pakistan media has a very negative impact and keeps women out of media houses. The world of media is male-dominated and is literally being run by men in Pakistan, which has created an environment discouraging women from joining and staying in media houses.
It is necessary for women to join media houses and then to fight for top positions so that they may bring a woman’s perspective into decision-making and policy planning. This is, of course, easier said than done as women have a lot of constraints to deal with just because they are women. To mention a few, culture and traditions in Pakistan do not encourage women to join a field such as media — families are not always understanding about letting their girls take up careers in media. The working conditions at media houses are not always conducive for female workers and women are already juggling responsibilities at home and work, making the stress and pressure higher than what is faced by men working in the same offices. It is easier for men to mingle with other men and get on-the-job training, whereas women find it difficult to do that due to cultural constraints.

While a lot of women have been discouraged from joining media in Pakistan, there are a few women who are fighting to be acknowledged for their abilities. Then why are women missing from top positions in the field of media?

The fact that the top management in most media houses is male and does not recognize the rights of women, contributes greatly to the fact that women are excluded from top jobs. In order to see more women in top positions in the media, there have to be more men and women who are gender-sensitive. Women need to be taken seriously by top management and their male colleagues. More women need to be in decision-making positions within the media in order to influence decisions about hiring more female staff and policy decisions regarding sexual harassment at workplaces, among other things.

Very few women journalists have made it to the top. In the entire history of Pakistan, no woman has ever been the editor of an Urdu daily. However in English newspapers, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi (The Muslim and The News International) was the only woman to head English language dailies for a long time. She was later joined by Dr Shirin Mazari who headed The Nation as its editor. Kamala Hyat, Beena Sarwar, Ayesha Haroon have headed different editions of national dailies.
Media houses in Pakistan do not seem to have any strategies or policies to deal with the challenge of women covering only ‘soft beats.’ The fact that management in media houses is mostly male-dominated plays a role in determining how women are seen in their organizations. There is a need for awareness training of gender roles and issues at the managerial level of media houses. Maybe a quota system for news beats can be devised for male and female reporters.

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